In a July 12 final decision, the New Jersey Acting Commissioner of Education affirmed that boards of education in this state have virtually unfettered discretion when seeking to dismiss non-tenured employees.

In this decision, a non-tenured supervisor of elementary mathematics was appointed to that position in August 2016 and remained through the end of the 2019-2020 school year. However, in April of that year, he received an administrative notice of non-renewal. The supervisor then requested and received a statement of reasons for his non-renewal from the superintendent. The superintendent’s letter said the termination was based on “the fact that the district’s Mathematics scores had not shown significant improvement on standardized (testing).” The supervisor then requested and received a “Donaldson” hearing from the board of education, following which the board declined to overturn the superintendent’s non-renewal.

On appeal to the acting commissioner, the supervisor argued that the board’s decision was arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable because he was never advised that his supervisors were dissatisfied with his performance relative to the elementary students’ test scores; he also said that the test scores in the higher grades remained unimproved as well. The supervisor also objected based on the fact that he was not fully evaluated during the 2019-2020 school year prior to the closing of the schools in March 2020.

The administrative law judge who issued the initial decision relied on well-established precedent, Dore v Bedminster Bd. of Educ., quoting, “absent constitutional constraints or legislation affecting the tenure rights of teaching staff members, local boards of education have an almost complete right to terminate the services of a (teaching staff member) who has no tenure and is regarded as undesirable by the local board.” The judge concluded that a non-tenured teacher challenging his termination on the grounds that the reasons given by the board are not supported by the facts is only entitled to litigate his termination where the facts constitute a violation of constitutional or legislatively conferred rights. Since the supervisor made no such allegation, the administrative law judge dismissed his petition.

In her final decision, the acting commissioner adopted the initial decision, reiterating the holding in Dore. The acting commissioner emphasized that even if the board did commit the procedural violations alleged in the petition, the supervisor was not entitled to reinstatement or an award of back pay. The acting commissioner noted that the supervisor’s petition also sought to place the burden on the board to justify the non-renewal when precedent clearly requires the non-renewed employee to demonstrate that the board has violated his or her constitutional or statutory rights. Accordingly, the acting commissioner affirmed the initial decision and dismissed the complaint.

To access the decision for more information, please click here, or call the NJSBA Legal, Labor, and Policy Department at (609) 278-5254. Board members may also wish to consult with the board attorney, in accordance with district policy.